Published on April 19th, 2014 | by octaneblue2
Review: SteamWorld Dig: A Fistful of Dirt
Developer(s): Image & Form
Publisher: Image & Form
Platform(s): 3DS eShop, Steam, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita
Release Date(s): August 8, 2013 (3DS eShop), December 5, 2013 (Steam), March 18, 2014 (PlayStation Network)
Described by developer Image & Form as a “platforming mining adventure with strong Metroidvanian influences,” SteamWorld Dig: A Fistful of Dirt is a very unique title on the 3DS eShop. Developer Image & Form have made a game where the primary objective is digging through dirt actually fun. Simply put, there’s a lot to like about this game. Read on for the full review of SteamWorld Dig!
The protagonist of SteamWorld Dig is Rusty, a steambot whose uncle passed away, leaving him a mine in the nearly abandoned town of Tumbleton. It turns out there is a lot more to this mine than initially thought, and with the first hit of Rusty’s pickaxe, a new adventure begins.
While SteamWorld Dig could be categorized as a platforming title, and it certainly features elements of the genre such as running, jumping, and climbing on a 2D plane, it’s a very unique game overall, due to its focus on digging. Rusty will start out with his trusty pickaxe, and you’ll be able to dig through certain blocks of dirt in the mines. Scattered throughout the dirt are some treasures, which are usually indicated with colorful stones to distinguish their blocks from regular ones. The treasures can be taken back up to the surface to be appraised for some cash. And from there, you can use the cash to buy upgrades from the shop. Buying upgrades actually helps the town grow, so both Rusty and Tumbleton benefit from digging for treasures.
In addition to getting cash and upgrades, going back up to the surface is important because as you go through the mines, your light will slowly extinguish itself. When its completely dark, Rusty will only have a small circle of light, and it becomes very difficult to distinguish blocks from one another and see enemies. If you resurface, your light quickly replenishes itself. And from there, you can go back down to the mines and continue your journey. You’ll initially have to go all the way back to the top of the mines to resurface, but you’ll eventually find teleporters that send you straight back up and then back to their location, and these can be bought and placed at different points later on in the game, which is very handy and helps make resurfacing less tedious.
It’s also worth noting that there’s a bit of a strategic element to the game too. As you dig through the dirt, you’ll have to make sure that you dig in certain patterns that enable you to get back up to the surface or a nearby teleporter. You can’t just dig everywhere you want, or else you’ll miss out on some treasures, or make it difficult or impossible to get out of a certain spot. If Rusty gets stuck, then you’ll have no choice but to use the self-destruct option, which automatically destroys him. Using that option, or getting killed by enemies, crushed by rocks, etc., automatically brings Rusty back up to the surface, but you’ll lose half of your current cash and the loot in your bag. Thankfully, you can reclaim the loot in your bag by going right back to the spot where Rusty died.
In terms of combat, at first you’ll only be able to hit enemies with the pickaxe, which isn’t very strong. They can drop some items that replenish your health, light, etc., so you can take the risk and try to defeat them to hopefully get the item you need, or attempt to avoid them altogether. Other than the pickaxe, Rusty will acquire new equipment and abilities in special caves, including a drill, a speed dash, and an electrified double jump. All of these will turn Rusty into a Swiss Army knife of sorts, enabling him to quickly get through floors of the mines, get to areas that he couldn’t before, and deal with enemies through better attacks. The game throws more hazards and more dangerous enemies at you as you go through the game, so there’s a nice progression of difficulty. There’s actually a boss fight at the end, but it’s unfortunately the only one in the game. It certainly would have been nice to see more of these; it was actually surprising that there weren’t any boss fights before obtaining some of the new equipment, but perhaps the game would’ve been a bit too inspired by the Metroid series.
SteamWorld Dig has a very nice art style that looks great on the handheld. The visuals pop out and look pretty cool with the 3D turned up, but the 3D doesn’t affect or enhance the gameplay in any way. The music is obviously Western-tinged, and has a dark and brooding feel, but the main theme in the mines plays over and over again, so it does get a bit repetitive. The controls work well too, with additional equipment mapped to the shoulder buttons, so they can be swapped around. The bottom screen displays all of your loot, which you can discard if your bag gets full, and also an extremely useful map that shows all of the explored areas.
A playthrough of SteamWorld Dig takes about 5 hours, perhaps more if you go for more treasure and attempt to get all of the offered upgrades. While the game is on the shorter side, it is worth noting that the mines have a different layout in each playthrough. So if you go through the game again in another save file, you’ll have a different experience each time, a very cool feature.
SteamWorld Dig is certainly a very different title than others on the 3DS eShop. The sense of exploration, acquiring new items and equipment, and progressing through until the end is what really makes SteamWorld Dig shine. If you’re looking for a different kind of platformer that’s really enganging, then you’ll want to check out SteamWorld Dig.
+ Unique and fun digging-centric gameplay
+ Lots of upgrades and new equipment
+ Encourages additional playthroughs
– Short length
– Only one boss fight